The start of the pandemic was tough for New York City’s solid collection of barbecue restaurants. Most shut down, at least temporarily, and a few, like Ducks Eatery and the original Blue Smoke, closed permanently. Some multi-branch barbecue spots like Mighty Quinn’s cut back on their number of locations, at least for the time being. And Morgan’s BBQ was shuttered by a fire — a constant threat to barbecues throughout the country.
But hopefully, the shrinkage in our smokehouse population is over. There are signs of a resurgence as a number of new places have opened up, especially in neighborhoods underserved by barbecue options before. The Upper West Side, for example, has two new establishments, while Mott Haven has its very first (and a great one, too). And one of the city’s leading barbecue impresarios has consolidated two closed places into a single pit and reopened to the public.
I decided to take a whirlwind tour of the new barbecues. Seeking some common ground, I decided to try the classic beef brisket sandwich at each place, and I’ve ranked them so that the best appears at the end of this piece. But all are worth visiting, and each offers its own delectable quirks, as noted.
4. Virgil’s Real Barbecue
When Virgil’s opened in Times Square in 1994, it was one of the few places in town that actually smoked its meat — unlike the previous standard of “oven barbecue” where various cuts of meat were painted with sweet sauce and baked. And now a branch of Virgil’s has belatedly opened up on the Upper West Side, which is quickly becoming one of the city’s most up-and-coming food neighborhoods. The brisket sandwich is relatively inexpensive ($12.95), and the meat rates high on the smokiness index, but on this occasion, at least, the barbecue tasted a little tired, perhaps because it’s smoked off-premises, though it sported a decent amount of fat. Nestled next to Carmine’s, which also owns Virgil’s, the barbecue is carryout only. 2450 Broadway, at 91st Street, Upper West Side
3. John Brown BBQ
This is the third Queens location for the barbecue named after a 19th-century civil rights figure. John Brown Smokehouse in Long Island City closed in August of last year and took over its sister restaurant, Mothership Meat Company, to open as John Brown BBQ, which can claim the most comfortable outdoor dining terrace of any barbecue in town. The place now describes itself as Kansas City style, but the brisket is very much Texas, with a barbecue sauce that can be dispensed with, but is quite good on its own. Alas, the brisket was a bit dry due to its low fat content, but the sandwich, with a full half pound of meat, was generous for the price ($12.50). 27-20 40th Avenue, between 27th and 28th streets, Long Island City
2. Izzy’s BBQ Smokehouse
Located in Crown Heights, Izzy’s was a part of the Brooklyn kosher barbecue boom of 2016, and the approach was similar to Texas barbecue, where pork takes a back seat to beef (or in this case, no seat at all). The meat at the new Upper West Side branch — hotly anticipated, but slow in actually arriving — is smoked at the Brooklyn facility, and that has a slight deleterious effect. Accordingly, the brisket was a shade too lean, and less smoky than I’d like, but it was still a substantial and enjoyable sandwich, especially with the sweet slaw and sour pickle on either side of the barbecue. Note: the meat is chopped rather than sliced. The sandwich is priced at $25, which is not bad for so much kosher beef. 660 Amsterdam Avenue, between 92nd and 93rd street, Upper West Side
1. Hudson Smokehouse
Complex city permit processes prevented Hudson Smokehouse — located in Mott Haven at the far southern tip of the Bronx — from opening as scheduled in 2019. It wasn’t until post-pandemic in 2020 that the doors swung open on a place with very distinguished barbecue that deserves to be counted among the city’s best. The brisket sandwich ($14) is a case in point, where the meat is sliced thick with plenty of fat and smoky flavor. The barbecue sauce was a little sweet for my taste, but I didn’t need it for moisture. I could eat this sandwich every day. 37 Bruckner Boulevard, at Alexander Avenue, Mott Haven